Calling BS on cancer wait and see approach


Indonesia was absolutely my mum's favourite place in the world

ASIDE: Since taking up using Google Reader I’ve started following some extremely interesting people’s shared items, some of whom I would now consider friends :).

Reading my Google Reader feeds this morning, I came across an article about cancer treatment, or a lack thereof. I generally can't read an entire article about cancer without choking up, but this morning I thought my better than average mood would act as a shield. Besides, the only way to conquer fear is to meet it face to face, right?

After reading it though, I felt so passionately about it I decided to expand on it here rather than on my Google Reader shared items. The article in summary:

A soon-to-be-published research study says various forms of cancer may sometimes go away without treatment. They say it is happening in larger numbers than they could have ever imagines. The New York Times reported on this story and said, “At the moment, the finding has no practical applications because no one knows whether a detected cancer will disappear or continue to spread and kill.”

Doctors say that if the theory turns out to be credible, this could turn into a huge point of interest within the medical community. Women diagnosed with breast cancer could be allowed to opt for a watchful waiting process, monitoring a tumor within the breast to see if it grows before deciding how to treat it.

I don't swear on this blog. I don't use profanities. This post though will be different. If you use a screen reader in a public space you may wish to skip this.

I officially call bullshit on this article. I call bullshit because the premise is extremely dangerous.

Their point is that some forms of cancer can just be monitored and all will be fine. My concern is that cancer is notoriously hard to monitor. Blood tumour markers can give you a rough idea but for example with my mum they didn't give details where the tumours are, and unless you get scanned every other day, there's no reliable way to see how it's progressing. Scanning and monitoring are also apparently seen in this context as being superior to being treated. Hah. My beautiful late mum was a noticeably different person when she knew she had to have scans. She hated them. She would turn into a ghost, tremble and wouldn't be able to speak. Scans and waiting for the scan results are terrifying.

Pink ribbon Every day you wait you risk having the tumor metastasise, and then you're in even more trouble. If you monitor cancer it "may go away by itself", what criminally negligent, utter tripe.

My beautiful mum died because some lax, incompetent doctors in Australia in the early 1990s treated her then didn't follow up because they thought the cancer had taken care of itself. SHE BELIEVED THEM. When we moved to Singapore she had scans for what she thought were unrelated breathing problems and by then the cancer had spread to the stage where it was completely irreversible. She spent over 12 miserable years in hospitals having chemotherapy after chemotherapy trying to contain it before she finally overdosed on pain killers last year because she just couldn't take the constant pain anymore. She told me she wanted to stay alive to see her kids grow up before she left. I'm choking up thinking about this.

I'm just as worried as the next person about people taking medication they don't need, and I believe that alternative treatments (if actually effective) can be superior to taking expensive drugs that you may develop a tolerance for, or addiction. With that said, if you have cancer HAVE IT TREATED. DO NOT GAMBLE WITH YOUR LIFE LIKE THIS. I cannot over stress this. If a doctor says that they'll be taking a wait and see approach with your life, tell them that for the sake of your loved ones and for yourself, you'll be adopting a wait and see approach with them and that you'll be finding a new oncologist.

Photo of Napier Road, just down the street from Gleneagles hospital in Singapore. My mum and I spent many an hour sitting in the Starbucks in the pictured shopping centre on the far left after her chemo but before the side effects set in.

For what its worth, Dr Tan Yew Ooo and the tireless nurses of the Gleneagles Medical Oncology Centre in Gleneagles Hospital Singapore are the most selfless, humble, determined, intelligent, friendly people on the planet. If everyone who had cancer could be in such capable, warm hands I imagine the world would be a far more beautiful place.

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Ruben Schade is a technical writer and infrastructure architect in Sydney, Australia who refers to himself in the third person. Hi!

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